This is the first and last time I tell this story. I have never spoke of it in person, print or conversation. And it’s with heavy heart that I pen this. IT never goes away.
My dad took the guilt of IT to his grave. My mom cries ever single day because of IT.
My brother Ron committed suicide in 1998. He was 29.
There has not been one day since that I haven’t thought of him. Why it had to happen. How did things get to that level? What more could I have done? All valid thoughts and questions. IT would from then on rule the fiber of my family and cast all in a disconsolate state of shock.
Maybe some background on my brother. He was the youngest of four. There were nine years between he and I. This created a natural generation gap between he and I. He was much closer to our two sisters. But it was my father who he remained the closest. My dad was an outdoorsman. Fishing and hunting was his pure passion. Whatever reason, I loathed both activities. But Ron was a natural at both. So he and my dad naturally became fishing and hunting partners. In other words, Ron was everything I wasn’t. And my dad always thought of me as weaker. In his eyes, I wasn’t a ‘mans man’, which was fine with me. So he and Ron set forth a path of outdoor activities from a very early age.
Ron was very popular. He was a superb athlete. Off-the-charts intelligent. A born leader. Always very popular in school. But around the age of 17 he started acting in strange manners. I would often watch as he stared listlessly into space. He lost interest in everything. He was an impeccable dresser, but soon he was wearing the same clothes for days at a time. His high school grades soon plummeted. Which were always straight A’s now dropped to barely passing. He talked in circles. He was in a constant state of confusion. He would eat a huge amount of food, then go days without a morsel consumed. Soon it was the beginning of a never-ending parade to doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and rehabs. It was very apparent that he was suffering the beginning affects of bipolar disorder. And after many sessions it was determined that he was on the extreme end. This in turn was in conjunction with being also diagnosed as a manic depressant. At that time, we had no idea of the multi-veined matrix of IT.
During the countless states of diagnosis, he was prescribed multiple cocktails of anti-depressants, anti-anxieties and a host of other mood altering medications. All created a sense of sickness and horrible side affects. They were in fact worse than no meds at all. So, to ease his pain, he began to drink. And drink more. He became an imbibed detritus of bad times and cruel dreams. Then came the voices.
Having left home when he was eight years old, I was out of his loop. I was too busy trying to become a radio star. I would field calls from my mom begging me to do something. Pleading with me to talk to him. And I did what anyone would do in an instance where they didn’t understand. I would scold him to “straighten up”, “cut this drinking crap out”. Take your damn meds. Stop upsetting my mother. He would often laugh and tell me how wrong I was. I’m still haunted at a particular conversation. He goes, ” you are clueless. You have no idea what it’s like to fight demons in your own mind that you know don’t exist”. That is a word-for-word quote. I relive it every day. I was no help. As usual I was more concerned with myself and over-inflated ego. I couldn’t be bothered with him. Not only that, I was embarrassed because of him. Soon he went on days of drinking binges. He would disappear for days. And then came bouts with the law. Multiple DUI’s. Public intoxications. My parents were lost for anything resembling an answer to his sickness.
As earlier stated, my dad was an avid hunter. So he had guns. A lot of guns. And growing up they were as natural as our couch. But after Ron progressively worsened, dad took all guns out of his house. I must note that my parents were divorced. They separated when Ron was only four. After talking with many doctors it was relayed to my father that Ron might be a threat to himself and possibly others. Dad gathered up all guns and moved them from his house. It was shocking to visit him and see no guns. He wasn’t taking any chances. Gone were the days of hunting between father and son.
Things along 1998 were getting worse. His behavior was more bizarre and random. Having spent time in a few psyche wards and even a bout in the state hospital, he was sliding farther and faster. There were rounds of meds, then periods of heavy drinking. But we never thought it would become IT.
I was working at The Ticket at the time. We were doing a remote at the old Yucatan Liquor Stand. It was exactly 4:33 when I was given a note to call my sister. I took it in stride and stuck the message in my pocket. Then there was a second message. Call home immediately. I waited for a break and called my sister. She answered on the second ring. And before she even said hello, she blurted “Ron is dead. He shot himself…he’s gone.” My heart dropped to a level I’d never experienced. I was in shock. I told the guys that my brother was dead. I’ll never forget the passion and concern on Mike Ryhner’s face. He told me to get to my family. I did. IT was only beginning.
The next days were a blur. My mom was inconsolable. My dad in a strange state of calmness. My sisters were drained. And I was just not in the real world.
As it turned out it was Ron’s desire to die and rid himself of this awful disease and his superior IQ that provided the instrument of death. My dad was a wheeler-dealer. Always in the market to buy and trade. Over the years he had amassed a great deal of gun parts. He used them to repair his stockpile. They didn’t amount to much. Ill-fitting, mismatching and often broken. To dad it represented not much of anything. To Ron it was a ticket out. IT won over.
Ron told dad he was gonna lay down and take a nap. Dad was already half asleep from his traditional afternoon nap. Dad woke up some two hours later. He noticed Ron’s car was still there. He called to him. No answer. He walked outside and noticed the door to his storage shed was open. Now it must be noted that Ron had a bad habit of leaving doors unlocked and open. So dad walked over and saw what he thought were Ron’s shoes. But as he inched closer he noticed that it was Ron. Not being alarmed since Ron would often pass out at odd places, he entered the storage shed to rouse Ron. Then he noticed the blood. And a face with a glazed and eerie expression. Ron was dead. He had shot himself in the chest. Gone. IT.
Ron had taken that useless pile of parts and assembled a working shot gun. It was crudely constructed. I later inspected it and determined that there was no way this gun would fire. And it probably wouldn’t again. It was designed to fire once. And that one time would relieve him of all pain and suffering. The shotgun was on its own perilous tangent. IT.
That was over a decade ago. We just passed the anniversary a few weeks ago. I try not to remember. But I do. So does mom. So does my dad from the grave. My sisters mourn.
My dad was a career military man. One of the toughest guys ever. He had seen death and destruction in a battle ground environment. He was toughened through years of directness to distress. He was brave and true throughout the funeral. I was numb. As the service ended and they ushered the family out, we passed the open casket. My sister stroked my brothers face. My other sister kissed him. My mom touched his hand. I tried to not look. I don’t like open caskets and almost never look. So I hurried past. Then I hear a thud. I turn around and my dad had dropped to his knees. He was sobbing uncontrollably. He was pleading ‘why’. ‘Why was my son taken from me’? It marked the first and only time I ever witnessed my dad shed a tear.
IT would consume him for the rest of his life.
I understand the devastating affects of mental illness. I would later myself be diagnosed with depression. I educated myself on the disease. I have a deeper understanding of death and how it can rip apart all that is good. I understand suicide. I even had a moment of indecision contemplating suicide. IT.
It will never go away.
(© Copyright 2012 CBS Local Media a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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